MBWA 101: 5 tips to get started

MBWAA few weeks ago, a newly minted manager asked my advice on how to best manage by walking around. I gave him an encouraging – but non-specific – answer. This post is my follow-up to his question.

Wander frequently
Your employees may worry that you’re spying on them the first few times that you show up. If you make wandering a regular on-going event, people will get more comfortable over time. But please, don’t put it on your calendar for the same time every month.

Go by yourself
You’ll be tempted to bring your trusted adviser; the one that comes to those important meetings and takes notes for you. Don’t. The only way to be authentic is to remove your protection and open yourself up.

Listen first, talk later
The old adage is that you have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion. Unfortunately, most of the people only have heard you talk, not listen. When you do talk, ask simple open-ended questions that encourage them to talk.

Be constructive, not critical
If you point out mistakes that people are making, it might be viewed as embarrassing rather than helpful. They’ll remember the criticism and will less likely provide feedback the next time.

Follow up
Don’t make promises unless you’re absolutely sure that you can keep them. Instead, show you were listening by following up afterwards – even if you can’t fix the issues that came up. And don’t forget to thank people for their time before you leave.

It’s never too early in your career to start managing by walking around. In fact, it’s never too late either.

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7 Responses to MBWA 101: 5 tips to get started

  1. nmarks July 19, 2010 at 8:32 am #

    Jonathan, I would advise a new manager to get out there to sit with you staff in their space and listen. Listen, absorb, reflect, and don’t try to “manage” for a while. If they ask for advice, give it.

    A new manager knows much less than she/he thinks. The first task must be to learn, with the second being to gain a measure of respect from the team.

    Only when you have a solid foundation should you make decisions or provide guidance – and it helps to have the respect of those you are guiding.

    “Managing by Listening Around”.

  2. Jonathan July 19, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    Norman, I agree which is why under “Listen first, talk later” I suggested that managers listen twice as much as they talk.

    As for the term “Managing by Listening Around”, there are some other amusing spinoff here http://alignment.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/mbwa-origins

  3. nmarks July 19, 2010 at 9:23 am #

    Jonathan, I am a fan of Tom Peters so I like your reference. BTW, I have written about “auditing by walking around”.

  4. Matthias Steiner July 19, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    Very nice blog post. I have a face-2-face meeting with our top management next week. I’ll see how they do :)

  5. Mike Mankowski July 23, 2010 at 10:26 am #

    Like the commens on listening, but how can you apply this model in today’s geographically diverse organizations? Specifically if you cannot “see” folks face to face?

  6. Ayaz October 1, 2014 at 8:16 pm #

    Be constructive is good but not the all time so critic is also good

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  1. 7 Tips For New Managers « Manage By Walking Around - August 22, 2010

    [...] Tips For New Managers After reading my MBWA 101 post, a colleague asked me if I had ever compiled a list of tips for new managers. He wanted to provide [...]

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